The Sale of Kashmir and the Creation of J&K

  • Publish Date: Jun 3 2017 2:06AM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 3 2017 2:06AM
The Sale of Kashmir and  the Creation of J&K

 ‘The sale was a cold, hard real estate transaction in which the Kashmiris were never allowed to offer a bid’


From December 1845, British and Sikhs forces fought in Punjab. In Gulab Singh’s self-imposed strategic absence, Sikhs forces were hindered by some poor or half-hearted generalship. Conversely, some determined fighting by the British and Indian armies ensured that they won the first Anglo-Sikh war, after which the British obtained some significant financial and territorial spoils. Many British (hypocritically) considered the non-participant, Gulab Singh, to be devious, or a detested villain, or ‘the worst native [they had] ever come into contact with, a bad King, a miser, and a liar’.

Nevertheless, the British had readily accepted the dubious Gulab’s neutrality, and his important intelligence, both of which factors helped the British to defeat the Sikhs, a victory that the British were pleased to achieve. That the strategically challenged British felt some obligation to Gulab Singh is shown by their action of converting their new possession of Kashmir into cash by hastily selling this area to the supposedly despicable—but clearly amenable—Jammuite. While this sale was couched in mercantile terms, the British appeared to be rewarding Gulab for his strategic ambivalence and non-participation in the first Anglo-Sikh war. The sale also may have been the result of some sort of pre-war deal agreed by the British and Gulab, with Henry Lawrence a possible intermediary in arranging this deal. Certainly, both the British and Gulab Singh benefitted from the transaction. The losers were the Sikhs and the people of Kashmir. The Sikh Army lost a skilled general, his able forces and the first Anglo-Sikh war. For Kashmiris, the majority of whom were Muslims, Kashmir was sold like a mere chattal to a Hindu for whom Muslims personally already had little respect or regard, and possibly vice versa. Whatever political desires Kashmiris had for their homelands were totally ignored. The sale was a cold, hard real estate transaction in which the Kashmiris were never allowed to offer a bid.

The history of the sale of Kashmir is as follows. After some tough fighting, British forces finally defeated the Sikhs in late February 1846. On 9 March 1846, Gulab’s good offices were used to conclude a treaty between British officials and Maharaja Dhalip Singh, Ranjit Singh’s youngest son and the latest ruler of the troubled Sikh Empire. As a minor, the eight-year old Sikh ‘ruler’ was under the tight control of his mother, Maharani Jindan, and the newly-imposed British Resident to Punjab, Brevet-Major Henry Lawrence,  whom Gulab Singh already knew and who was a signatory to the treaty. Among other things, Dhalip Singh—conveniently for Gulab—was compelled by this ‘Treaty of Lahore’ ‘to admit [Gulab Singh] to the privileges of a separate Treaty with the British Government’ and to recognise the independent sovereignty of ‘Rajah Golab Sing’ in Gulab’s existing territories and in any territory ‘made over’ (transferred or sold) to Gulab by the British Government. Tellingly and despite having just betrayed Dhalip, this was ‘in consideration of the good conduct of Rajah Golab Sing’.

One week later, on 16 March 1846, as agreed in the Treaty of Lahore, the British signed a treaty called the ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ with their collaborator, the Raja of Jammu, Raja Gulab Singh. Brevet-Major Henry Lawrence was again one of the British signatories. In this Treaty, the British indeed ‘made over’ to Gulab Singh ‘Cashmere’ (Kashmir) and ‘all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi’. The British did so because Gulab Singh had offered to immediately pay two-thirds of a cash indemnity of ‘seventy-five lakh’ nanak shahi (Sikh) rupees that the victorious British had imposed on the defeated Sikhs.

Consideration for this sale of real estate therefore amounted to the British being paid Rs 7.5 million. Pragmatically, this amount was sufficient to meet most of the military costs incurred in their recent war with the Sikhs, with Gulab paying this money in full, via instalments, by 14 March 1850.  Gulab’s previous looting of the Sikhs’ treasury probably gave him a large amount of the financial wherewithal needed to purchase Kashmir from the British. Whether Gulab had suggested a specific purchase price to the British before the Anglo- Sikh war is not known. However, the fact that the Treaty of Lahore specifically mentioned Gulab Singh one week before he received Kashmir via the Treaty of Amritsar suggests strongly that the British had made some pre-war agreement with Raja Gulab Singh.

As a result of the British sale of Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh, some important arrangements came into place. The sellers obtained Singh’s acknowledgement of the (British) Indian Government’s supremacy. This ensured this government’s suzerainty, or paramountcy, in matters to do with all Indian princes, including Gulab Singh, particularly in relation to defence, foreign affairs and communications. The sellers also ensured that a—perhaps, the—major figure in Punjab politics was on their side as their military and administrators sought to consolidate still uncertain British power in unstable north-western India. For the purchaser, Gulab Singh received indefeasible (not forfeitable) title to ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, after which he became Maharaja of this new political creation. Acquiring the Kashmir Valley as part of this deal satisfied Gulab’s territorial aspirations. It also added another piece to Gulab’s territorial ‘tapestry’, or mini empire, which, before the Treaty of Amritsar, had comprised Jammu, Ladakh, Baltistan and, supposedly, some or all of the Aksai Chin area in which neither Gulab’s administration nor any of his subjects had any actual presence. More importantly, acquiring Kashmir added territory, taxable subjects and real prestige to Gulab’s princely state. Prior to acquiring Kashmir, the Jammu area was well known to the Lahore durbar. After acquiring Kashmir, the reputation of Gulab’s enlarged state of

‘Jammu and Kashmir’ grew remarkably throughout India. In due course, J&K would become India’s largest princely entity and one of its most important, particularly strategically.

A conundrum exists about the British sale of Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh in 1846: why did the British decide not to directly administer this region themselves? The British could have continued their ownership of Kashmir, but, after one week, they chose otherwise: they sold the region to Gulab Singh for cash. This was despite British influence, power and prestige being such by March 1846 that they were paramount throughout almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Equally, some of these assertive British conquerors comprising military officers and administrators with strong Christian beliefs considered that they had a divinely- ordained ‘civilising mission’ in Asia (as did their Russian rivals) in which only they could successfully rule places with fairness and virtue. Given the negative impressions that some Britishers held about the devious and self-interested Gulab Singh, Kashmiris would have benefitted more from such British fairness and virtue than from Gulab’s harshness. Annexing Kashmir also might have satisfied a mercantile desire to sell British goods in this region and to make some profits for the Company, and for its officials. Making money in Kashmir was possible, given that it had been a reasonably productive and relatively wealthy area under previous exploitative regimes. Administering this region might not have cost the British money; rather, they might have made money out of it. It therefore would have been worth keeping Kashmir under British control.


Excerpted from Christopher Snedden’s book, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris (Hurst and Co., London, 2015), with permission from Speaking Tiger (India)